Yes, paññā does seem to be used differently in different contexts, and over time. I believe someone wrote on the evolution of the concept… ok I found it, in Williams’ Mahayana book. In case you’d like it for reference:
Wisdom is, alas, all too rare; prajnā is not. This apparent paradox should make us sensitive to the usual translation of ‘prajnā’ by ‘wisdom’.11 Prajnā is a mental event, a state of consciousness. Normally, at least in the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist context, it is a state of consciousness which results from analysis, investigation. ‘Its function’, the Abhidharmasamuccaya tells us, ‘is to exclude doubt’. In this sense some Buddhist texts refer to a worldly or conventional (samvrti) prajnā, the understanding through investigation of, say, grammar, medicine, or some other mundane skill.12 These skills may or may not have religious significance, depending on how they are used. Texts also refer to ultimate (paramārtha) prajnā, the understanding which results from an investigation into the way things really are, what we might call ‘metaphysical’ understanding, the result of deep and sharp rigorous thought. In this sense there is the prajnā not only of Buddhists but also of rival non-Buddhist systems of thought - prajnā which apparently excludes doubt but is from a Buddhist point of view the result of a defective analysis. Thus it is possible to speak, as does the Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāsika tradition, of faise prajnā (Jaini 1977). Since the principal concern of Buddhist writing is with the correct understanding of the way things really are, however, by an understandable process of thought ‘prajnā’ comes to be used for the correct discernment of the true situation, the ultimate way of things. So, prajnā is given simply as the discernment of dharmas, those ultimates that mark the terminating point of much of Abhidharma analysis, in the non-Mahāyāna Abhidharmakosa Bhâsya. It will be recalled from Chapter 1, however, that in the early Mahayana, as well as in some schools with no par ticular Mahayana association as such, the teaching of dharmas as those final realities out of which we construct the world was rejected in favour of a teaching of the emptiness of dharmas (dharmasünyatâ). Dharmas too lack any fundamental status and are not ultimate realities. Dharmas too can be analysed away. For these traditions the analysis commonly associated with the Abhidharma had ended too early, and thus such a prajnā was a defect ive prajnā, not the perfection of prajnā, or no real prajnā at all. Now prajnā is said to be a state of consciousness which understands emptiness (sünyatâ), the absence of ‘self’ or intrinsic nature even in dharmas. Since this prajnā is the principal concern of the Perfection of Wisdom texts, and since this prajnā, this wisdom, appears also to have been advocated in certain schools which were not in themselves anything to do with Mahayana, it is not surprising that there is a tradition in some circles of a Prajnāpāramitā in a Prakrit, that is, a non-Sanskrit, dialect belonging to the Pūrvasaila sect and not specifically identified at all as Mahayana as such.13 Wisdom (prajnā) in the Indo-Tibetan tradition is primarily an understanding that results from analysis. There is, however, a distinction familiar to philosophers between knowing that something is the case - such as knowing that Archibald is the husband of Fiona - and knowing by acquaintance. Knowledge by acquaintance here would be having, for example, the dubious pleasure of actually meeting Archibald. In speaking of wisdom as understand ing the way things really are there is correspondingly a distinction between knowing intel lectually, through deep, even meditative, analysis, the way things must really be (knowing that ‘Aha - this is the way things really are!’), and the ‘paranormal’ experience of a med itative absorption directed towards the results of such analysis - dharmas or emptiness as the case may be. We thus face another understandable shift in the meaning of prajnā. Prajnā is sometimes a meditative absorption the content of which is the ultimate truth, the way things really are. Thus the Mahâyânasamgraha can refer to the perfection of wisdom as ‘nonconceptual awareness’ (nirvikalpakajnāna). This is still prajnā, wisdom, for it is still a state of consciousness that results from analysis, although the analysis has been refined, as it were, out of existence, it has transcended itself, and the mind is left in one-pointed absorption on the results of analysis (see Chapter 3 below). Note, however, that this prajnā is nonconceptual and nondual, whereas the preceding examples have been conceptual. That there is a gulf between conceptual and nonconceptual appears to have led certain traditions, notably that of some Chan (Ch’an; Zen) practitioners in East Asia, to conclude that prajnā can in no way result from analysis, but rather is a natural response to cutting all analytic and conceptual thought.14There are nevertheless Indian bases and precedents for this (Williams 1980: esp. 25-6), although the particular emphasis on anti-intellectualism and cutting con ceptual thought in some Chinese traditions may have also been the results of broader Chinese, perhaps Daoist, influence (cf. the Daodejing s (Tao-te Ching) ‘The Dao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Dao’).
Thus far ‘prajnā’ and its perfection refer to interconnected forms of conceptual and nonconceptual understanding. There is, however, one further slide in meaning to be noted. By a shift, perhaps understandable in the context of meditation, ‘prajnā’ and ‘prajnāpāramitā’ come through nonconceptual and therefore nondual awareness to equal the content or object of such an ultimate awareness, i.e. here emptiness itself. Thus the Dazhidulun refers to the perfection of wisdom as the indestructible and imperishable ‘real mark of all the dharmas’. This is what is really the case, emptiness, the universal absence of any ultimate existence ‘whether Buddhas occur or whether they do not occur’.
Ultimate prajnā as understood by the Mahàyàna, and prajnāpāramitā, the perfection of wisdom, appear to be generally the same. Mahayana and non-Mahāyāna sources alike refer to a number of perfections (pāramitā) mastered by the Bodhisattva as he or she follows the long path to perfect Buddhahood. The most well-known list in Mahayana sources contains six: giving (dā a), morality (or ‘precepts’; sī a), endurance (ksānti), exertion (tnrya), meditative concentration (dhyâna), and wisdom (prajnā).15 The perfection of wisdom is primary; it is said to lead the other perfections as a man with eyes leads the blind (Madhyamakâvatâra 6: 2), although later writers in particular are sensitive to the suggestion that wisdom is sufficient unto itself and the other perfections are unnecessary. Candraklrti, in his Madhyamakâvatâra, distinguishes between mundane or ordinary perfections, and supramundane perfections (1: 16). The difference is that the supramundane perfection of giving, for example, is giving with no conception of the fundamental real existence of giver, gift, or receiver, that is, it is giving in the light of perfect prajnā.
Generally, therefore, the perfection of wisdom is that wisdom which goes beyond the wisdom of the world and beyond also an imperfect wisdom associated by the Mahayana particularly with certain Abhidharma scholars who had put forward a plurality of dharmas as true ultimate realities composing the conceptualized everyday world. The perfection of wisdom transcends their wisdom, both in terms of its more refined analysis and also because it occurs within the context of the extensive and compassionate Bodhisattva deeds, the aspiration to full Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.